Circles, Silos, Niches

Creative writing for the likeminded — and ONLY the likeminded

I sometimes take the opportunity to rant. This is a rant.

It appears that the entire intent of ‘literature’ and ‘poetry’ is to create and define niches. Because the world — read: virtual world — is so vast, everyone is trying to cut a little piece of the landscape and call it ‘home.’ But, there are only certain guests that can and will be invited into these ‘homes.’

Open call for writers from ___ with experience in ___ and a ___ background.

The creative writing world is laser-focusing on the micro-niche. Only certain writers and certain readers will interact in shared, manufactured spaces. People will read what they write and write what they read, creating a tight, closed, exclusive little circle.

  • Poetry contest.
  • Submit to our ___ theme.
  • Only $25 and every entry gets a “free” one-year subscription.

The likeminded buy their way into likeminded publications that create a reader-base on a specific call. I understand the need for reading fees and the likes in a world where funding is dwindling; this said, the original need becomes a foundation for niche-building. Each publication becomes a silo that contains only the “type” of writing seeded in calls, inflating circulation numbers to readers who bought a subscription. That year wasn’t free.
Exclusive content only $___ per month.

$3 here, $5 there, $15 hither, $25 yon… all to buy into a place that feels like ‘home.’ But all the people there, the likeminded, they also bought in, for the same reasons, sparked by the same call, the same ‘experience,’ the same ‘background.’ The home is peopled with writers that sound the same, think the same, read the same…

…creating a tight, closed, exclusive little circle.

I miss the days of pulp mags, of mags that published a variety of conflicted, conflicting, interesting stuff. Now many — and I should note that it’s not ALL — journals or mags or publications just put out pages of I’ve-seen-this-before-and I-can-pretty-much-guess-what’s-coming-next.

Break the circle – Write outside the silo – Make the world your niche

Write like cinnamon

Why does fresh ground cinnamon taste better? Does it actually taste better? Either way, there is a difference.

2 sticks © R L Raymond

To me, the act of rasping the cinnamon into coffee grounds, onto an apple, into a barbecue rub adds to the experience. There is an ownership of the spice, an effort in making the most of the ingredient that elevates it. Instead of just tapping a few shakes from a plastic jar, you actually make the flavour come alive through action.

How does this apply to writing? Simply. Don’t use canned ideas, expressions, clichés, styles, conventions. Make something new. Create something never done. Act on your writing. Go beyond the idea of stringing words together; go deeper, into sound, structure, meaning, history, foundations. Writing should be active and not a passive exercise in retelling. This is best exemplified in Hollywood these days. Reboots. Reruns. Retellings. All boring, adding nothing new… When a well written, original movie comes along, it truly stands out. In each case, there is a conscientious effort to make a masterpiece, outside and beyond what already exists.

Practice by reading different styles, from different sources, from different cultures. Soon, you’ll transcend the words, you’ll find the elemental spice that make the work unique, vibrant, original. Then find your own ingredients, break them down to the constituent parts, build your own, fresh literary recipe.

Wading in sameness

Lately I’ve noticed a surge of statistics and articles on increasing popularity, discoverability, readability. This idea also seems to be trickling down into the creative writing world, especially poetry. It seems that content is being replaced by style, message by findability. Ok, so this isn’t new, but the sheer volume of noise behind the movement is disconcerting.

Every title of every article is the same, and some of these pieces even offer exact formulae for proper title wording. To me, an old school writer just wading into this new world, it seems self-defeating. It is the definition of vicious cycle: read articles about how to get articles read. While some of the pieces offer great information and insight, many rehash, refurbish, recycle. Does creativity take a backseat to search optimization?

The same holds true for poetry these days. Themes, styles, looks all drain into one homogeneous slush of ‘poeming.’ It is becoming more and more difficult to tell poets/writers apart — it all sounds the same, about the same thing, written pretty much the same way. Where articles use canned headlines, poems use the same short, choppy prose, losing any differentiating, interesting, identifiable characteristics. The essence of voice (see my short piece on voice) is gone.

● Commodification kills style
● Commodification kills voice
● Commodification kills art

Randomly select an article in a publication, on the web, anywhere, and truly try to find the author in it. Do the same with some contemporary poetry. Can you really, REALLY, identify the poet? It is getting tough. This is not to say there aren’t many great writers, poets, novelists, etc… I just find it disheartening that it takes much more effort to wade through the swamp of sameness to reach a little island of beauty. And, people are often instructed to become more homogenous:

● How to get reads
● How to get clicks
● How to get published

In each case, the message is simple: be more like everyone else, and everyone will read your stuff. Journals often tell writers to read what they like, what they’ve published, what they don’t like. If conformity was the goal, we would not have Samuel Beckett, H.D., or any other writer experimenting, excelling, inspiring. Instead of compelling, complex, cerebral writing, we would only have short, simple sentences and paragraphs of a certain length, apps to make us write like Hemingway (no hate, I LOVE Hemingway, mostly because he was Hemingway), apps to cut words we don’t need, to suggest better, shorter, more common words… oh, wait, nevermind…

“They don’t make movies like they used to.”
“Whatever happened to the classics?”
“Now THAT song will never get old!”

When we do find something different, exciting, fresh, a piece, poem, story, novel, song that is identifiable to a particular creator, we instantly know we’ve found something special. It will survive ‘pop’ culture, trends, the ‘must-dos’ of the day. Without differentiation, experimentation, deviation from the blob of sameness, there is nothing special. That’s why, for me, I want quirky titles, non-conforming articles, poems that are still poetry. I think it’s something we should all want, need, demand. My suggestion: make it yours and let the world find you. It doesn’t help to try and make it fit. That just fills the swamp. If it’s good, if it’s yours, if it’s fresh, it will be discovered, remembered, cherished.

Off to a tiny island, to read weird, wild, wacky stuff, I remain — RLR

Old lily pad © R L Raymond

Almost alien

Make your writing unusual

Seasonal Blue Moon © R L Raymond (Aug 21, 2021)

One of the best aspects of creative writing is the ability to manipulate, transform, mystify. Taking the everyday and making it sublime, ridiculous, awe-inspiring is a skill any writer should hone.

Anyone can describe. It takes a special talent to change what one sees in order to make in interesting, provocative, evocative for a reader. The “stuff” is the same, that original inspiration, but the execution is what counts. Without the ability to engage and entertain, we would all be but scribes, recording the everyday.

When you are writing, exercising the voice and vibe that makes the writing yours, remember that you must run everything through the filter of you. Failure to make the world around you yours, presented in such a way as to bring your world to others, will only result in boring retelling or rewording.

Always ask yourself:
● Is it presented in a new way?
● Is it exciting?
● Will people care?

Always answer:
● Yes
● Yes
● Yes

Why do you write poetry?

The question “why” is always loaded, especially when it deals with poetry. The inquirer always expects a lofty response.

“I write poetry to satisfy my muse…”
“I must write poetry, it comes from my soul…”
“Poetry is the true language…”

To me, any answer like this, or anything flowery, contrite, haughty, misses the point. Poetry is not an end but a means. Poetry is a tool, a structural element to just plain writing. It provides a framework to

isolate

Or maybe

juxtapose elements that need
juxtaposition to show some
similarity

When looking at line breaks, line lengths, stanzas, really focus on the reason. Does it add to the meaning or

is the line
break simply random to
make the writing look or sound
like poetry?

Poetry isn’t divine, or pure, or mystical, nor is it just chopped up prose. It is a lyrical, metrical, and content-driven building block.

So my answer to “Why do you write poetry?” is pretty simple: I use poetry if the piece requires it. I use poetry to bring meaning and interest to my writing.

So use your “poetry” for a good reason.

Don’t make poetry the reason.